The Ageist Media
Age and the Law of Unintended Consequences

The New Ageism: Boomer Chic

category_bug_ageism.gif No sooner had I posted a bit of a tirade yesterday on what I’m coming to think of as the “new ageism,” than this popped up in my email inbox:

“Hello. […] Productions is producing a documentary for PBS on the Baby Boomer generation slated to air 2007. I am reaching out to you in search of inspirational and extraordinary stories to include in our program. Stories that would contradict the idea that "there are no second acts in American lives" (F. Scott Fitzgerald). Stories about exemplary Baby Boomers who embody these characteristics - anti-authoritarian, idealistic, innovative and self empowered.

”We'd love to hear some amazing Boomer stories.”

Apart from the fact that the writer has already made my point today by erroneously assuming that a blog about aging must be written by a baby boomer, the producers of the documentary, along with all mainstream media, are redefining old age as ending at 60, relegating everyone older to cultural death by media neglect.

Before the boomers turned 60, media stories about elders didn’t get beyond health problems and the politics of entitlements. Now, boomers are “amazing, inspirational, extraordinary, exemplary, anti-authoritarian, idealistic, innovative and self-empowered” and anyone who isn’t, or is older, has been made twice invisible - first through the historic ageism of the youth culture and now through the new ageism of boomer chic.

Setting up boomers as exemplars of aging and concentrating attention only on those who exhibit extraordinary (usually physical) accomplishment is another desperate cultural attempt to deny the facts of aging with continued segregation of elders who don’t meet these criteria.

Further, this narrow interpretation of age - imitation of youth - discourages public discussion of the real changes and limitations that accompany aging, and dismisses the extraordinary personal growth that only old age can bestow.

Advancements in 20th century science blessed us with longevity unknown in the history of the world. If we allow these extra years to be ignored, elders are doomed to continued marginalization and the culture loses the experience, judgment and wisdom the burgeoning numbers of elders can contribute to the overall well-being of our communities, large and small.

Geriatrician William H. Thomas makes a distinction between "adults," whom he describes as those in their most active mid-years, and elders, those whose child-raising is over and whose careers have wound down. He deplores the cultural imperative for old people to behave as adults or be tossed aside.

“We cannot and will never be adults forever," writes Thomas. "To attempt such a thing is to invite repeated and progressive failure into our lives. Worst of all, the cult of adulthood slathers these failures with shame and demands that, whenever possible, they be hidden from others.”
- William H. Thomas, M.D., What Are Old People For?

The definition of age as decline, debility and disease has not changed. It’s just been moved forward a few years to accommodate boomers’ delusion of eternal youth.

It’s easy to tell from the email that the producers of the PBS documentary have decided to perpetuate that delusion before they’ve shot an inch of tape. And as PBS still maintains a shred or two of its reputation for integrity, this boomer program will be hailed as progress in the cultural attitude toward elders. Don’t be fooled. It’s just a new version of the same old ageism.

Comments

The term 'Baby Boomer' is catchy and has always carried positive connotations. We pre-Boomers - the 'War Babies' (like me) and the Pre-War models - need to come up with an appealing name of our own; something that suggests that we are still firing on all cylinders, despite the fact that we might be a bit 'old hat'. If we can come up with a good name we can then set about marketing ourselves.

Perhaps you could conduct another on-line poll, Ronni, to come up with a suitable title.

Great post Ronni. I just discovered that Bill Thomas has a blog that you might want to link to...

http://shahbazim.blogspot.com/

Well, I just discovered via Wikipedia that a name has in fact already been coined for the generation born between 1925 and 1942 - the 'Silent Generation'!!! (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Generation)

Quote: "the members of this generation were withdrawn, cautious, unimaginative, indifferent, unadventurous and silent".

That's you they're talking about Ronni!

I am 57 . Am I a baby boomer? Ye gads these terms ! :)

I always thought that we were part of the "Beat Generation".

Thanks again for one of your great posts. As for naming the group born between '25 & '42, I'd like the word "classy" to be in there somewhere! Dee

As a bonafide "baby boomer"...born in 1947...I'm jumping on a soapbox here.
"It’s just been moved forward a few years to accommodate boomers’ delusion of eternal youth."
Like anything else, I don't think it's fair to say the above is a blanket statement. I, personally, do not have a delusion of eternal youth, nor do any of my friends or acquaintances. I am finding that those of us in my age group are at our very best in life...creatively, financially and even health-wise. I also believe we're realistic enough to comprehend that all of this can change in a heartbeat.
I also wanted to comment on that "silent generation." From my own experience with the over 65 age group, I'd have to say there's an element of truth in their definition. That's how society was...the male made most, if not all, of the family decisions. The women stayed home to raise the family. Many had no clue how to even balance a checkbook. But this "silence" didn't extend to all members of that generation. Just as not all baby boomers are caught up in the delusion of eternal youth. But I do also feel it was this baby boomer generation that refused to be silenced in our society...for good or bad.

EARLY boomers?

It is as if the Baby Boomers invented "ageing". At age 67 I am caring for an aunt who is 105 as well as a husband at 69. We read about the sandwich generations who are raising children and caring for parents. With the miracles of modern health care in our society, it's not youth, or adulthood, but longivity and what we do with the years after the 8th decade that should be considered. My aunt read to the "old" people at a nursing home well into her 90's. That's not going to make a big story for the media nor is the fact that I am trying to manage her finances and continue to make decisions for all of us about the medicare prescription program. However, I also volunteer in the community and recruit my peers. Continuing to earn my place on this planet is the simple goal of an elder.
I can remember thinking how knowledgeable I was at age 50. I will be interested to read the experiences of the baby boomers in twenty years.

Good Lord Terri, We pre-boomers were right there supporting the boomers. I was active in Civil Rights, Women's Rights, and Peace Movements along with people ten years younger than me and ten years older than me. Most of us were not silent anymore than you of your generation. I don't think any of us have time for this kind of belittling and agree with you that not everyone fits a sterotype. But I am only 11 years older than you and I can't believe you wouldn't or couldn't understand how we struggled to get out from under male domination. IT WAS NOT SILENT.

The generation described by Terri sounds more like my mother's generation, born in the 19th and very early 20th century. But even my grandmother and my mother were not silent on the issues of their day.

Most of my contemporaries were far from "silent" as the label reads for our generation. There are many ways to make "noise." If anything, we stimulated some of the analysts, musicians, writers, woke up the press to pay attention to the fact the times were changing as the boomers were growing.

Some writer, researcher or statistician wracks his brain for a buzz word or term and suddenly we have a label. These labels, over generalizations, can be devisive. Just think each generation needs to be careful about believing the labels and characterizations thrust on them and other groups.

Numbers alone do make an impact, just hope the Boomers don't believe all the inflated press written about them. Hope we all appreciate the continuous threads we share evolving toward mutually rewarding goals; that we pool our energies rather than be divided. We're all aging. We deserve respect in the process, not ageism which rears it's ugly head all to often as Ronni brings to our attention.

Now the distinction between adult and elder drives me nut. I am probably playing on words here, but I have the feeling that I only became an adult a few years ago, being an adult also meaning accepting to get old. What are old people then? Children?

As usual, Ronni, I like what you've said here. Good Lord! I wasn't a very good Boomer -- I didn't holler too much in my youth -- I was a good girl & played by the rules mostly. I'm a Boomer who did her debilitating stuff in her 30s -- a massive stroke at 31. I didn't have time to be an invalid as the doctors predicted -- I had grown up things to do so I got better; I raised my kids & went back to college to finish my B.A, at 37. Finally left my bad marriage at 52 & now, at almost 59, I am determined that the next 40 years are going to be good ones & I'm more of a renegade/rebel now than I've ever been. I guess some of us never stop being a late bloomer. :)

After reading the comments here, I feel compelled to post one more comment on this subject.
I've always felt this media sometimes makes it difficult as opposed to a verbal conversation.
So therefore, I'd like to clarify (especially for Maria) although I didn't live it, I've always been aware of the unfair struggle so many females in previous generations endured to rise above that male domination. So much so, that my second novel has this topic as the major theme. One of the blurbs on the back of my book states, "portraying the role of women in a male dominated society." This subject has always touched me deeply (deeply enough to write a novel about it) so I'm sorry, Maria, if you misunderstood me.
This is what I meant about "generalities".....although I witnessed many females that, for whatever reasons, remained "silent" I've encountered a million more that inspire me, hold me in awe and make me very proud to be a female.

I was watching this 60’s show on public TV last night and I just started crying. I got chills remembering all of it. Then it got to 1968 election and my anger at my dad for voting for George Wallace. MLK’s assassination, RFK assassination, Teddy Kennedy’s mess at Chappaquiddick in July 68. 1969 continued the decline. Then there was the night that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon July 20, 1969. Dad and I watched it together and he talked about his amazement of not only it happening but being able to watch it happen. (It was raining and about 11 pm when we saw it on tv. Dad and I had to go out and chase the cows that were out. I was driving the truck and he was walking in front of me. I said out loud “oh God he looks so old!” He died two weeks later).

In the cruelest of all bad jokes, My best friend’s family was transferred to Omaha that July. This was an incredibly low blow. Then Dad's death, funeral, and Woodstock in Aug 15-17, 1969. I caught only glimpse of it as it was just a few days after Dad’s funeral.. I heard about it but I didn’t understand what had happened. I was amazed when I saw the film strip of it years later. then I started my sr. yr of HS.

Later in the spring of 1970, it was a scarey time for me but hopeful. I figured if I could get away from my very sad mother I would be ok. Then Kent state happened in April. It seemed that gloom and doom would not go away. We celebrated our HS Graduation at the river. That weekend Tom, Pete, and Pat—good buddies of mine—all drowned in the river trying to walk over the damn when then were too drunk. Their puffed up bloated bodies haunted me for years. I felt like I just kept sinking and sinking and those I would turn to for support were just as low or lower. I remember thinking that there were so many funerals, so much sadness that there was no way I could recover from them.

I was thinking about coming out of Viet Nam and the threats that my friends would be drafted, those assassinations, deaths, losses and being in my senior year of HS then graduate and be on my own. In college I did my share of dropping out and dropping in with the rest of the LOVE generation.

It felt like all the things I had counted on had been ripped away. How those deaths left me angry and cynical; and how the men that I thought would save us were gone. Then Dad died; then my friends; then I left home. The Nixon era really capped it off for me.

And it just hit me that that was my launching into adulthood; this tremendous sadness about not being able to count on my “leaders” and not having anyone to pull us out of this mess, as a country and as a family. At that point I became an angry feminist, determined not to need any one and just depend on myself.

It never hit me before how much those assassinations ripped the ground out from under not just me but our whole generation, just before I lost my dad and seemed to start a downward spiral, not just for me but everyone around me. At that point I moved towards the only leaders left in my life—my brother and my uncle. I started a slow recovery in college, used my anger as cheap energy, got a social work degree and tried to make my mark on a cynical world.

I will always be an advocate activist. I will always vote, scream, push for change, and be very suspicious of those that run this country and the shadow government that operates behind the scenes. That is the cynicism that freezes some of us and leaves the rest of us really pissed off.

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